Lakewood started the 2012 football season with a bang Friday night, holding off 2A Franklinton, 49-47, in a game that Leopard head coach James Lewis called, “a track meet.”
The Leopard offense had a combined total of 420 yards rushing, including an 86-yard kickoff return by Kevin Murphy on the very first play of the game.
“This was a track meet. I’m just happy to get out of here with a win,” Lewis said with a relieved smile. The Leopards were in command of the game up until half-time, when the game was suspended due to lightning. The second half didn’t start until after 10 p.m. and the extra rest seemed to give the Red Rams a boosted spirit.
Coach Lewis said, “At times we looked good on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively and special teams — I don’t know, it’s just one of those nights. I’ve been doing this a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever been through a game quite like this … never expected close to one hundred points being scored.”
He was pleased with the win, but said his team got too careless at times. “We had way too many mistakes, turnovers, penalties, break-downs on both sides of the ball. We looked sloppy, I thought,” he added.
The Leopards started off big, with the touch down return by Murphy on the first play, and then another Lakewood score just six minutes later when quarterback J.J. Tanner ran the ball into the endzone.
It looked as though the Leopards would keep the Red Rams from the red zone, but two encroachment calls in a row against the Leopards gave Franklinton a fresh start and four more downs. That’s all they needed, and three downs later the Red Rams were celebrating their first score with 20 seconds left in the first quarter. The extra point kick was blocked by Joe Ross Freeman, making the score 14-6.
It didn’t take Lakewood long to push the ball back down the field. Murphy got the handoff and went wide left, jumping over blockers and twisting all the way around to keep from going down. He scored from 26 yards out, and with the extra point kick good by returning kicker David Rivera, the score moved to 21-6 with 10:25 left in the first half.
The celebrating on the Leopard side of the field was short-lived, as Franklinton completed a 63-yard pass for a TD on second down and 15.
The track meet started up on the next drive for the Leopards, as Nikin Henry broke through on third and nine with a 36-yard run that put Lakewood on the Red Rams’ 42-yard line. Haywood Mack pushed the Leopards 10 more yards down the field on the next play and a completed pass by Tanner to Murphy moved them up to the 28-yard line.
Mack ran for another 12-yard gain and Shyheim Rich did his part by pushing the ball another 3 yards to make it third and seven on the 13-yard line.
Tanner faked a hand-off and ran to the right, passing to Henry who stepped into the endzone for the Leopard’s final score of the half. Rivera’s kick was good.
Franklinton put six more points on the board before ending the half when No. 3 managed to thread the needle and run the ball in for a 32-yard touchdown. The extra point went wide right. At halftime the score had Lakewood leading 28-19.
The second half was just as exciting as the first, with the first three possessions resulting in TDs. Lakewood kicked off to Franklinton, who returned the ball for a touchdown, but no extra point.
Then after a series of downs, the Leopards drove 60 yards and Mack scored on a 1-yard run.
The Red Rams scored on their next two possession, but only converted the second time with a 2-point conversion. For the first time in the game, Lakewood was down 35-39 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.
The Leopards were not giving up, though. Henry kept the next series alive for the Leopards after hustling to the 2-yard line on a fourth down play from about the seven. Kelvin Bell carried the ball in for the touchdown and reliable Rivera kicked it through the uprights. Lakewood was back on top at 42-39.
An on-sides kick, recovered by Trace Faircloth, saved the day for the Leopards, but he had to be helped off the field with a leg injury. The recovery resulted in another touchdown pass by Tanner to Murphy from about 20 yards out.
Franklinton marched back down field and scored from the 5-yard line, plus getting the 2-point conversion.
Lakewood got the ball back with about four minutes left in the game and managed to hold on for the win, 49-47.
On offense, Henry carried the ball 20 times for 180 yards; Mack went 15 carries for 82 yards; Damion Bennett, 12 for 52; Bell, 5 for 44; Murphy, 2 for 34; and D.J. Rich, 1 for 28 yards.
Tanner completed 6 of 3 passes for 33 yards and receiver Murphy had 2 catches for 24 yards, while Henry had 1 catch for 22 yards.
On defense, Mack had 5 tackles and 1 pass interception; Cory Kinnaman, 5 tackles; Cody Barnett and Stephen King, 4 tackles each; Malique Taylor, 3 tackles; Joe Ross Freeman, 2 tackles and one blocked extra point; and Trace Faircloth, on-side kick recovery.
The Leopards will host North Duplin next Friday.